As Amy Keating Rogers' response to the Derpy controversy makes its rounds, and people learn, definitively, why her speaking role was edited, the controversy and the outrage that goes with it does seem to have abated.
(A few things that may be worth going over again in a few lines: No matter how she was received, Derpy was never intended to be portrayed as mentally handicapped. When she was edited, it was out of fear that she represented a harmful stereotype, not a revulsion for "different" people.)
However, a few complaints remain fairly common. Besides complaints about "politically correct" culture, which will have to wait, one stands out:
"Nobody complains about Patrick..."
Obviously, the core complaint is something more like, "Why aren't other 'stupid' characters censored?", and his name usually comes up in a litany of other "doofus" characters, such as Ed from Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy, Ralph Wiggum from The Simpsons, and Cheese from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, but Patrick Star, of Spongebob Squarepants fame, always seems to be in there.
It's a fair question.
It's also important to treat it as a question.
Nobody does complain about Patrick Star.
Why isn't Patrick Star treated the same way as Derpy?
Why doesn't he provoke the same kind of controversy, offense, and subsequent censorship?
And, incidentally, when her portrayal was changed, what was so different about the "new" Derpy that she was widely seen as more of an energetic "ditzy blonde"?
I stress that that isn't a rhetorical question: Her new role, presumably, has not offended anyone, except by virtue of being changed from the old one. Something in those details has a different effect.
Decisions like this one are not made arbitrarily or lightly. Going back and not just deleting, but changing the audio and video of the episode after it had already aired cost time and money. Simply put, unfair or not, there must have been a reason -- some kind of difference that separates Derpy from a time-honored, largely inoffensive tradition of dopey characters.
Let's break them down.
Much of this analysis will be stream-of-consciousness; wrote this ve-he-hery early in the morning, and I realized certain things as I wrote it. My conclusion is at the bottom. However, I should probably say in advance that this is not an effort to explain that this is the right and proper way for things to be -- just to explain, as so many have asked, why there is a difference in their treatment at all.
Show: Spongebob Squarepants
Role: Major character, best friend to main protagonist in a very long-running show. Has had time to develop a character and a long history of dialogue and character traits, even if most of them revolve around him being comically dull or buffoonish.
Voice: Deep, slow, dopey male voice. More or less par for the course for his type of character.
Eyes: Normal cartoon eyes.
Name: "Patrick Star" is a very "normal"-sounding name. His surname is a pun. Get it? He's a starfish.
General portrayal: A doofus -- again, something of a stock character. Well-intentioned, but dim, with a life of his own, a lasting friendship with the main character (who is himself usually depicted as not-very-bright), and a rock that he literally lives under, among other amusing quirks.
Reaction: Initially well-received as a funny character in a well-received show. If there was ever any controversy surrounding him, besides the show's overall perceived decline in quality over time in its later, more recent years, I haven't heard about it.
- While I'm making personal comments, there is a scene in a fairly early episode where Spongebob ends up with Mermaid Man's signature belt with the giant "M" on the front. He keeps shrinking things with it, then tries to undo the effect and make everything grow again, only to find that he can't. When he goes to Patrick for advice, Patrick thinks on it for a moment, then, running on pure "Patrick" logic, he tells him that he had it set to "M" for Mini, when (flipping the "M" over) it should be set to "W"... for Wumba. Spongebob objects that he doesn't think that's a real word, but Patrick remains adamant on the subject and convinces him to go with it. This has nothing to do with the controversy. I just think it's one of the funniest jokes the show ever did.
Show: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
Role: Walk-on role, in and out after one scene. While she has a long and unusual history as a fan favorite, in the context of the show itself, to someone not familiar with her "fanon" portrayal -- which represents much, probably most of the audience -- her character is limited to what we see in those two minutes or so.
Voice: Slow, male voice. (Note: While Derpy is female, and was intended to be portrayed as such, her voice actor was not familiar with the character's background, assumed Derpy was male, and provided a "male" voice based on a kid she had once known. No offense meant to the kid.)
- Moreover, I've seen than one person explicitly naming her as, well, sounding like she has Down's Syndrome or a similar condition. (Keep in mind that the depiction mental disability alone was not the reason for changing her appearance.)
Eyes: Dancing around like googly eyes. The show itself already has a history of associating this with mental instability; fanworks, moreso.
Name: "Derpy" is arguably best known as a slang term, not necessarily positive or negative, for eyes pointing in different directions. (If I had a lazy eye, I'm honestly not sure how I would feel about being described this way.) However, it also has other possible meanings, such as generally describing a mistake or a failure ("I accidentally the fridge. Derp."), and, more rarely, but presumably familiar to anyone who actually had to deal with it as an issue, a derogatory slang term for mental retardation.
- Update: Secondhand testimony says "Yes".
General portrayal: Had little time to portray much depth of character in the one appearance, but was intended to come off as a well-intentioned, apologetic klutz who happened to have an unusual name (referring to her eyes) given to her by the fans and a tendency to cause chaos without meaning to. Exact relationship between "derped" eyes and clumsy behavior open to debate.
Reaction: Extremely well-received as a nod to the fans, with a minority complaining about her finally-canonized voice and so forth... and another minority who were strongly offended by and saw her as representing a harmful stereotype. I don't know if the word "intolerance" was used, but I believe it actually would fit with the complaints that led to the edit.
- A common claim, especially before it was explicitly revealed that she had not been intended to come off this way, is that Derpy in her original form represented not a harmful stereotype, but a character for children with mental disabilities to look up to and see as being "accepted" in society, where the edit supposedly shuts that out. I would honestly be interested in hearing any specific examples of this, not least since I have been diagnosed, years ago, with a mild form of autism. I'm not sure I see it -- especially since she spends the whole scene breaking things while Rainbow Dash reacts to the destruction she causes, and ultimately tells her to sit there and do nothing, which she also fails at.
- Since writing this, I have read a comment from one person who grew up with similar traits and was glad to see Derpy in the first place as an example of someone being "accepted" and having fun, and one person who grew up with similar traits, saw a character who couldn't do anything right while being looked down on by the only other character present, and was overall (sarcastically "Oh, yes, please do more, thank you") offended at "retarded jokes".
- Now it's two. Another common way to complain is to talk about anyone who complains as ignorant, self-appointed, arrogant people trying to speak for someone they have no idea about (or trolls, but certainly not concerned parents of disabled children who might actually have credibility -- sorry, that came out bitter) when, implicitly, everyone with a disability was delighted to see her... when the ratio that I have seen so far with disabled people who related to her is one-to-one "Yay, Derpy, get out there and show 'em!" versus "This is how they're portraying her?".
- One thing that I believe is important to draw from this is that, if she really was seen as an unusual, stand-out character with a mental disability, even if she wasn't meant to be, that offers an obvious answer to why she is treated differently than standard cartoon buffoons: If she honestly came across to anyone as an example of mental retardation, rather than standard-issue foolishness, then she's on much shakier ground as someone to play for laughs or make fun of.
Show: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
Role: Same as the above, but with no spoken name, a different voice, and more "normal" eyes.
Voice: Clearly feminine, arguably childlike, and blissfully energetic. Apart from the backlash represented by the change itself, the new performance has been criticized. Some prefer her new voice, though it is widely agreed to be less distinctive than the first one. No actor has been credited with the new voice. (She might be safer that way, whoever she is, though if it turned out to be Tabitha St. Germain, that would be... awkward.)
Eyes: Relatively steady, though not entirely so.
Name: Never spoken, with a rather obtuse edit when Rainbow Dash says, "Careful!".
General portrayal: Open to interpretation, obviously, but generally seen as a clumsy ditz who fits the archetype of the "dumb blonde" better than... whatever it is Derpy is.
Reaction: Widely reviled among the fandom in ways that are well-established (and vitriolic) enough that I would rather not recount them in much detail.
- How she would have been been received if she had been this way to begin with (clearly visible on-screen, eyes only wobbling slightly, clumsily causing trouble and making mistakes while trying to cover for them, never referred to by name, "ditzy" feminine voice) remains an open question to which we may never know the answer. Personally, however, I speculate that we would still be geeking out about it.
- On a related note, as the real reasons for the edit come to light, a few -- I've heard this one more than once, too -- are claiming that the staff is appeasing the minority while outraging the many, when I'm sure they did not expect a backlash remotely like this in response to editing her eyes, what her voice sounded like and Rainbow Dash mentioning her name. That's another post.
It's late, and I don't remember where I was going with this anymore, but I think I finally figured it out, or put it into words, somewhere in the middle there. Now that there's a reason to complain, and people are angry about Derpy being edited, many people are claiming that the likes of Patrick stand as precedent for (to use the word that is brought up much of the time in this context) "retarded" characters appearing and being played for laughs in animation, when I don't think they would have tried to claim that before there was a problem. Whoever you were talking to would probably be offended.
Like much of the show itself, as a cumulative result of all her little quirks, Derpy is something different. I think it's fair to say that she wouldn't be as beloved as she is if she weren't. (And if she weren't so loved, there wouldn't be as many people treating this as a matter of Derpy's death or disgrace... but I digress.) Personally, I wouldn't have described her as a mentally handicapped pony to begin with, but that's just me.